Issue #210  12/21/2014
Phillips' Two Auctions Total $6,744,625 with a 25% Buy-In Rate

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector

Phillips's sale on October 1 began with a selection of photographs from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. The audience was a bit smaller than at Sotheby's or in the afternoon at Christie's—32 to start, 40 a few lots in—but in the smaller confines of Phillips auction room it actually feels like more than at the other houses.

Lewis Hine's Sadie, a Cotton Mill Spinner, Lancaster, South Carolina, 1908 ($60,000–$80,000) wound up with phone bidder 2017 at $75,000, the low estimate, but clearly good Hine prints have rebounded after years of extreme caution. Edwynn Houk made a play for a vintage print of Henri Cartier-Bresson's Cordoba, Spain, 1933, with a Julien Levy Gallery annotation on the back ($80,000–$120,000), but yielded to a phone bidder at $161,000, number five on the top ten for the day.

Ansel Adams's Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941, printed circa 1963 ($30,000–$50,000) sold over estimate for $93,750 to 2017 on the phone. Then Edwynn Houk was successful in buying Edward Weston's Dunes, Oceano, 1936 ($70,000–$90,000) for $112,500, eighth place. Auctioneer Alexander Gilkes is clearly getting more comfortable and energetic on the podium, even channeling a bit of Simon De Pury's persona, but he still manages an occasional awkward locution. In between the two lots mentioned here, he offered an Adams Monolith and proclaimed it was from "YO-se-MIGHT."

Irving Penn's Mermaid Dress, 1950 ($80,000-$120,000), from the same edition and with the same estimate as the one in the Forbes Collection sold at Christie's, sold below estimate to the phones for $94,750. The one from the Forbes Collection brought $209,000. I didn't examine these prints but no one mentioned any condition problems. It's possible that this is a pure indication of how auction prices are based on just two bidders. While the underbidder at Christie's might have been willing to pay a hammer price of $160,000, now that the top bidder had his or her print, the underbidder here was clearly willing to go only to $70,000 hammer, thus the winning bidder at Phillips, possibly the underbidder at Christie's had to pay only $75,000 hammer. While that's only a theoretical scenario, it's a mechanism that is often seen.

Robert Heinecken's Cliché Vary/Lesbianism sold for $149,000 to dealer Peter MacGill.
Robert Heinecken's Cliché Vary/Lesbianism sold for $149,000 to dealer Peter MacGill.

Richard Avedon's Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent, Los Angeles, California, June 14, 1981 ($70,000–$90,000), was charmed by a phone bidder for $87,500. And lastly, Robert Heinecken's Cliché Vary/Lesbianism, 1974 ($30,000–$50,000), was the object of intense bidding by several people in the room and on the phones. It was finally won by Peter MacGill for $149,000, more than double the high estimate, sixth place on the day, and an auction record for Heinecken. This work was in Heinecken's retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Having a major show at a major museum is a sure indication of rising prices to come, and Heinecken, who was hugely influential on a generation of photographers who followed, has been wildly undervalued in the market. Heinecken also exhibited at Light Gallery, where MacGill worked, so there is that connection as well.

Phillips offered their set of Helmut Newton's Private Property: Suites I, II, and III, 1984 with a much higher reserve of $350,000–$450,000, but ended up with the same price, $389,000, going to the phones. It was the top lot of the day for Phillips. So here there was at least a third bidder willing to go near the top price.

Another phone took Richard Avedon's Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d'Hiver, Paris, 1955 ($50,000–$70,000) at $100,000, or tenth place. Sotheby's print passed. Phillips seems to attract some bidders who don't participate in sales at the other houses, so it could be that, too.

Robert Mapplethorpe's Ken Moody and Robert Sherman, 1984 ($50,000–$70,000) sold for $68,750, but his Tulips, 1987 ($70,000–$90,000) passed. There was a bit of slow down in Mapplethorpe's flower pictures this season. (Editor's Note: Not as much of a slow down, so much as overpriced estimates and reserves, in this observer's view.)

Irving Penn's Kate Moss, New York, 1996 ($70,000–$90,000) also bought in, but Avedon's Francis Bacon, artist, Paris, April 11, 1979 ($120,000–$180,000) took fourth place at $209,000, as it sold to yet a different phone bidder.

In the afternoon, with Sarah Krueger on the podium, Man Ray's Untitled (Natasha), 1931/unknown ($80,000–$120,000) did not find a buyer, but Hans Bellmer's Les Jeux de la Poupée, 1949 ($50,000–$70,000) sold in the room for $60,000. Edwynn Houk bought Edward Weston's Plaster Works, Los Angeles, 1925 ($30,000–$40,000), for $68,750, but this section had several notable passes: Edward Weston's Bananas, 1930 ($60,000¬–$80,000); Dora Maar's Profile Portrait with glasses and hat, 1930s ($80,000–$120,000); and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's Untitled (photogram), 1939–1941 ($70,000–$90,000).

Phone bidders captured William Eggleston's Memphis, Tennessee, 1972 ($50,000–$70,000) at $75,000; his Untitled (of two people in a red car eating McDonald's), 1965–1968 ($25,000–$35,000) at $50,000; and Sally Mann's Candy Cigarette, 1989 ($80,000–$120,000) at $257,000, third place.

Edward Burtynsky's Nickel Tailings #34 and #35, Sudbury, Ontario went to $100,000, an auction record for the artist.
Edward Burtynsky's Nickel Tailings #34 and #35, Sudbury, Ontario went to $100,000, an auction record for the artist.

Kevin Moore made off with Robert Adams's Berthoud, CO, 1968 ($30,000–$50,000) for $68,750, but lost to a phone bidder for Adams's Colorado Springs, CO, 1968 ($25,000–$35,000) at $81,250. Adams is another highly important photographer who has finally been getting his due in the market the past couple of years.

An order bidder drove off with Vik Muniz's Standard Station after Ed Ruscha from Pictures of Cars, 2008 ($40,000–$60,000) at $62,500. Here David Hockney's The Desk, July 1st, 1984 ($60,000–$80,000) brought $87,500 from the phones. And an online bidder mined Edward Burtynsky's Nickel Tailings #34 and #35, Sudbury, Ontario, 1996 ($40,000–$60,000) at $100,000, an auction record. This tied for tenth place in the sale, but Phillips did not include it on their list for some reason.

Phillips does better with a broader range of contemporary work than the other houses, and that continued here. Hiroshi Sugimoto's Tyrrhenian Sea, Mount Polo (Morning, day, night), 1993 ($150,000–$200,000) swelled to $293,000, second place, with Kevin Moore surfing home with the prize. Adam Fuss's Untitled (a silver print photogram), 2007 ($50,000–$70,000) took ninth place at $106,250, an auction record.

Carrie May Weems's Untitled (Woman Playing Solitaire), 1990 ($15,000–$25,000) more than doubled its high estimate at $62,500. Richard Learoyd's Agnes in Red Dress, 2008 ($25,000–$35,000) set an auction record at $60,000. Hiroshi Sugimoto's Fidel Castro, 1999 ($30,000–$50,000) sold to the phones over estimate at $87,500. Could a thaw in relations with Cuban be coming? (Editor's Note: Perloff was prescient, as Obama just announced such a thaw.). And Ruud Van Empel's World #8, 2005 ($30,000-$50,000) sold over estimate to order at an auction record of $118,750, sixth place.

The two sales totaled $6,744,625 with a 25% buy-in rate.

Vanessa Hallett, Worldwide Director, Photographs, Phillips, commented, "Today's auction produced very solid numbers, particularly among the rare works from the Art Institute of Chicago and the fresh, contemporary selections in our various-owners auction. The market for photographs at the highest level is continuing to grow on both ends of the spectrum."

My thanks to Steve Perloff and The Photograph Collector Newsletter for giving me permission to use this information. The Photograph Collector, which is a wonderful newsletter that I can heartily recommend, is published monthly and is available by subscription for $149.95. You can phone 1-215-891-0214 and charge your subscription or send a check or money order to: The Photograph Collector, 140 East Richardson Ave, Langhorne, PA 19047. Or to order The Photograph Collector Newsletter online, go to: http://www.photoreview.org/wordpressindex/shop/.